The story of the 2017-18 Washington Capitals will live on in that city and franchise’s respective histories forever – and a black man will forever have a starring role.
“D-S-P! D-S-P,” screamed thousands of fans in the streets of Washington after the Caps won the Stanley Cup with a 4-3 win over the Las Vegas Golden Nights last Thursday night.
Devante Smith-Pelly was the man they were saluting as he skated around the rink with the Stanley Cup hoisted above his head.
He had scored the game-sealing goal in a 3-1 nail-biter in Game Three to put the Caps in control of the series. A first-period three-goal flurry that sparked a 6-2 Game Four win was capped by a Smith-Pelly goal.
Then came Game Five. With the Capitals trailing 3-2 in the third period, and the Las Vegas crowd roaring, Smith-Pelly scored one of the biggest goals in franchise history.
After the Golden Knights attempted to clear the puck out of their zone, teammate Brooks Orpik stopped it at the blue line and tossed toward the net. After hitting a defenseman’s stick, the puck popped into the air and landed in front of Smith-Pelly.
The instinct and hockey skills honed in Ontario, Canada took over. Smith-Pelly kicked the puck to his stick and, while falling to the ice, fired it past Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
“I saw the puck coming toward my foot, it hit my foot, and that’s when I blacked out," Smith-Pelly said following the game.
“I don't really know. I kind of swung at it, and it all worked out.”
Lars Eller will be remembered for his game-winning goal 2:31 later. Alex Ovechkin was named the Most Valuable Player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and was the Caps’ leading scorer during the postseason.
But Smith-Pelly’s contribution was vital, and his teammates acknowledged it after the game.
“That’s just DSP,” Capitals defenseman Christian Djoos said. “If there is a big goal to score, of course he is going to score it.”
Smith-Pelly finished the Final with three goals on seven shots, 12 hits and four blocked shots in the five games. During the playoffs he scored seven goals in 24 games, which matched his season total in 75 games.
His five third-period goals tied Ovechkin for most during the historic playoff run.
“This is amazing. I appreciate Washington wanting to bring me in and give me a try. This is great,” said Smith-Pelly, who is celebrating his 26th birthday on Thursday, June14.
He was a man without a team after the New Jersey Devils bought out his contract last summer. He signed a one-year deal with the Capitals for $650,000, but he would only earn that if he made the team. He was destined to make $350,000 if he was dispatched to a minor-league team.
“Smith-Pelly did it again, amazing finals. I’m so happy for him,” forward Brett Connolly told the Washington Post.
“He’s had to earn everything he’s got this year, and he was our hero.”
During his seven years in the NHL, Smith-Pelly has registered 93 points (40 goals, 53 assists) in 341 regular-season games with the Capitals, Devils, Montreal Canadiens and Anaheim Ducks, the team that originally drafted him.
He has 16 points (13 goals, three assists) in 48 NHL playoff games.
Smith-Pelly, one of about 30 black players in the NHL, earned a visit to the White House. But he won’t be in attendance if his team decides to accept an invitation from President Trump.
On the eve of Game Five in Las Vegas, Smith-Pelly told Postmedia's Michael Traikos, “The things that (Trump) spews are straight-up racist and sexist.
“Some of the things he's said are pretty gross. I'm not too into politics, so I don't know all his other views, but his rhetoric I definitely don't agree with.
“Things that he's saying about immigrants and people of color, I don't think anyone here would agree with that. We've got a lot of Europeans and a lot of Canadians.
“(Visiting the White House) hasn't come up here, but I think I already have my mind made up.”
As I detailed here in February, Smith-Pelly was subjected to racist taunts by Chicago Blackhawks fans this season. He didn’t back down that night and he isn’t afraid to tell the world how he feels about the president.
A day after snubbing the POTUS, Smith-Pelly’s name was probably said more times than Trump’s by D.C.-area residents, especially Capitals fans who were celebrating their team’s first championship.
“I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s amazing,” Smith-Pelly said of his feelings after being a hero of the playoffs.
NBA to KC soon?
Kansas City’s Sprint Center is home of the Big 12 Conference men’s basketball tournament, KU basketball games, minor-league hockey, concerts and many other events.
However, it still lacks a professional franchise.
Persistent rumors have the NBA seriously considering adding Kansas City to its list of cities either through relocation or expansion.
In May, Jarrett Sutton of the SEC Network spoke to an anonymous NBA executive who said it’s just a matter to time for K.C.
“Jarrett, going to be real honest with you, Kansas City will get an NBA team at some point. It’s a real thing I’ve heard from multiple sources. Just a matter of time. Seattle and KC to me are most valuable markets for league expansion when it makes sense,” was the executive’s response to Sutton’s inquiry.
According to the latest Metropolitan Statistical Area rankings (MSA), Kansas City is 30th. There is not a NBA franchise within a five-hour drive from Kansas City.
The St. Louis area ranks 21st, yet there is no NBA chatter here - unless it’s going on behind closed doors. My guess is that if it is happening, Dave Peacock is involved.
Before NBA fans start saving money for season tickets, they should read Kansas City Times sports columnist Sam Mellinger’s story on Cliff Illig, the multi-billionaire co-owner of the MLS franchise, Sporting KC.
He doubts that a NBA franchise could survive in Kansas City.
“You try to figure out why Oklahoma City works and why San Antonio works (in the NBA),” Illig said.
“It’s hard to say that same set of chemistries might come together in Kansas City. I personally can’t quite connect the dots and project with any degree of confidence that we could replicate one of those things, given everything else that’s going on in town.”
But if the right offer were to come along?
“Certainly, we’ll listen to anything,” said the owner of the Cerner company, which tops $5 billion in revenues each year.
“Okay, if there were a big-money person here in town who says, ‘Look, I'm willing to put up 60 percent of the dough to make this thing happen, but I need four or five others to come alongside,’ well, you know, we'll listen to that. If it's not stupid, and it meets our criteria of what it could do for the region, I'm not going to say no out of hand.”
I just throw this out for thought; David Steward, founder and chairman of World Wide Technology in Maryland Heights, has a company that generates more than $10 billion in revenues annually. It is the nation’s largest majority black-owned business in America, according to Bloomberg.
In 2011, a Bleacher Report story had both Kansas City and St. Louis on a list of 10 cities which could be the new home for the New Orleans Pelicans if the franchise relocated. KC (2) ranked higher than St. Louis (7).
Kerr for President!
Last week, President Trump disinvited the WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx to the White House for a myriad of stupid reasons. The team spent the day in Washington, D.C. helping children at a school.
This came after LeBron James announced during the NBA Finals that neither Golden State or Cleveland would accept an invitation if one were to be extended.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr spoke for millions of Americans when he called out Trump for blasting those who protest during the national anthem – and then not knowing the words to “God Bless America.”
After the Philadelphia Eagles had their invitation to the White House withdrawn – less than 10 players were going – Trump held what he called a Celebration of America.
Kerr said the concept was built for image and features “these military sing-a-longs at the White House to show how patriotic we are – even though we don't know the words.”
“The president is turning all of this stuff into a political game and a ratings game and it's a blatant display of nationalism. What patriotism is is helping your fellow citizen and whether it's what (Kevin Durant) is doing or what we did when we visited Washington or what the Lynx are doing today, that's what patriotism is about,” Kerr said.
You might not like Golden State’s domination of the NBA Finals over Cleveland or the fact that the team should be stellar for years to come – but if it keeps Kerr at the podium challenging Trump we should all be rooting for them.
Alvin A. Reid was honored as the 2017 “Best Sports Columnist – Weeklies” in the Missouri Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest and is a New York Times contributor. He is a panelist on the Nine Network program, Donnybrook, a weekly contributor to “The Charlie Tuna Show” on KFNS and appears monthly on “The Dave Glover Show” on 97.1 Talk.” His Twitter handle is @aareid1.